FORT DEFIANCE — Playing lights out has never been so literal.
The Fort Defiance volleyball team triumphed over visiting Stuarts Draft in three sets Tuesday night in Shenandoah District play despite the majority of the lights on the Indians’ side of the net turning off in the middle of the third set.
With the 25-9, 25-12, 25-18 win on Senior Night, Fort Defiance captured its ninth consecutive victory after opening the season with two losses against unbeaten Rockbridge County, and sealed the Shenandoah District regular-season championship and the automatic berth into the Region 3C tournament.
“It was a good win,” Fort Defiance head coach Sue Leonard said. “We talked in the locker room about distractions, and Senior Night is a distraction. Stuarts Draft can put together a really solid defensive effort, so we knew we had to be aggressive with the serves and we did a good job. The seniors played very well, and we’re going to miss them next year.”
The energy started early for the Indians as they jumped a big lead until a nice swing from senior Kiersten Garber put her team up 8-2, forcing Draft to take a timeout. However, there was no stopping Fort’s momentum. Four kills from junior Leilani Goggin helped propel the Indians to a commanding first-set victory.
The second set began similarly to the first with Goggin nailing her third ace of the match to put the Fort up 7-2. From there, Draft rattled off three consecutive kills to put some pressure back on the Indians.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, Fort’s hitting came alive at that point with junior Caroline Simonetti recording three kills in short succession as her team began to pad the advantage. An ace by senior Emma Kurtz put Fort up 21-10, and the Indians comfortably closed out the set.
Stuarts Draft built the early lead in what would become an unusual third set. The Cougars put together strong play and took advantage of rare mishits from the Indians to take a 14-8 lead.
Fort (9-2, 9-0) responded with a 7-1 run to even the set at 15-all. And then the first issue with lights struck as two turned off above the Indians. After a discussion between the head coaches and two referees, play continued.
The two teams went back and forth for a couple of contested points before more lights turned off, leaving Fort with just a few lights still on for its team. After another discussion, the Indians recovered from the setback to rattle off six consecutive points to win the match.
“That was the ultimate focus moment because you can’t see the ball,” Leonard said. “I thought we did a really good job. We weren’t playing well before then, but we played pretty well after the lights went out.”
Goggin led with 10 kills, eight digs and three aces. Garber recorded 10 kills and two aces. Sophomore Ellie Cook provided a strong contribution with 16 digs, five kills and two aces.
Speaking of lights, Fort will have the rare opportunity for its version of Friday Night Lights when the Indians travel to Staunton on Friday for an unexpected third meeting. The unplanned match came about Tuesday when Wilson Memorial went into COVID-19 pause for the second time this season. The Green Hornets had to cancel their final two regular-season matches against Staunton and Fort Defiance. Since Tuesday was suppose to be Senior Night for the Storm, the Indians agreed to play them in order for those seniors to have their celebration.
Leonard said playing Staunton also benefits her team.
“I didn’t want to go a week without playing before beginning the Region 3C tournament next Tuesday,” she said. “It gives us another match to work on things and get better for the postseason.”
Leonard added the Indians are currently No. 4 in the latest Region 3C power ratings, and a third victory over the Storm could possibly push the team into the third spot.
“I think the whole season there’s been a lot of pressure on us,” she said. “We had a week where we didn’t have Leilani [Goggin] and the girls picked it up and persevered through that. It’s been a really good season. They work hard in practice every day to be better, and I think that’s shown on the court.”
Stuarts Draft (4-7, 3-8), which did not qualify for the four-team Region 2B tournament, wraps up its season Thursday at home against Riverheads.